Mindfully Unhappy – How grade deflation breeds a culture of stress and inequality
“Try not to worry too much about your grades” – this is the classic line our professors spoon-feed to us in the name of education. “To know thyself,” as the ancient Greeks once said, is infinitely more valuable than academic praise or the material payoff of an undergraduate degree. However, what happens when this belief is extended too far? What happens when well-meaning professors and faculty members undermine the importance of grades only to leave their students struggling to get into graduate school or secure a post-graduate job? What happens when students sacrifice their health and happiness for grades they didn’t earn, all while being prompted to become more “mindful?” Unfortunately, this is a problem I believe has plagued the F&M community.
A quick glance at F&M’s profile on College Confidential will quickly alert one to the fact that this problem has not gone unnoticed by prospective students and their families. Many prospective students have commented that during campus tours and visits, the academic rigor of F&M is constantly showcased, so much so that the rigor of F&M’s academics is discussed more than academics themselves. For instance, some students and faculty believe that that F&M students outwork Harvard students. The truth is, if we have to work that hard, it would be nice to get the prestige that comes with that hard work. Instead, we are rewarded with a false sense of superiority, one that does not translate to genuine academic success. If we want to continue to recruit a diverse and talented pool of students to F&M, we must show them that this is an institution where hard work is valued by professors and assignments aren’t merely assigned for the sake of accumulating tasks about which to brag.
The issue of grade deflation at F&M is also inextricably linked to the growing dialogue surrounding mental health. While the Student Wellness Center has now enabled students to receive eight free counseling visits per academic year and implemented a robust mindfulness program across campus, this is for naught when students are forced to stay up day and night only to receive grades that do not accurately reflect their intellect. If the campus community truly wants to become more “mindful,” then perhaps they should also become mindful of the fact that grades do impact an individual’s life. Grades have an important bearing on being a competitive candidate for jobs and internships, and for securing funding to attend graduate school. When good students are rewarded with poor grades, and thereby are unable to do these things, this makes F&M look bad, not good. It also leads to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, feelings that are all too common on this campus. This issue is even more pressing for first-generation college students, 69% of which choose to go to college to help bring economic stability to their families (NCBI). First-generation college students face unique psychological challenges, as their parents may view their desire for education and upward mobility as a rejection of their upbringing. This coupled with the fact that first-generation college students often come from impoverished public school districts is a recipe for disaster. As a first-generation college student myself, I know first-hand the troubles that come with feeling as if you do not deserve to be on campus because you are not rewarded for your hard work.
Ultimately, if F&M wishes to continue to be known as a diverse and equitable campus, I believe there needs to be a department-wide examination of student grading policies. We cannot continue to brag about “rigor” while leaving the health, wellbeing, and happiness of our students in the dark.